rank and file


rank and file


  • the ordinary staff members of an organization, and not the leaders or officers.
  • members who make up the main body of an organization or group.
  • the ordinary soldiers who are not officers.

Example Sentences

  1. The rank-and-file members need to unite and fight against the savage management.
  2. The rank-and-file workers produced a huge profit with their blood, sweat, and tears.
  3. The politician did not say in his speech that the credit for the victory of the party goes to the rank and file.


Linguistic evidence indicates that the expression originated in the 16th century, was rooted in military terminology, and subsequently expanded to various contexts. Let’s delve into the comprehensive backstory and interesting facts, drawing insights from reputable sources on the phrase’s origin and evolution.

The phrase “rank and file” finds its origins in military formations during the 16th century. It refers to the soldiers who stand side by side in a linear arrangement, forming rows and columns on the battlefield. In this context, “rank” denotes the soldiers positioned in a horizontal line, while “file” represents those in a vertical line. Together, they constitute the “rank and file,” symbolizing the common foot soldiers, distinct from officers and commanders.

Evidence of the idiom “rank and file” can be traced to the works of William Shakespeare, the renowned English playwright and poet. In his play “Henry V,” written around 1599, the phrase appears in Act 4, Scene 2. Shakespeare’s usage demonstrates the idiom’s early presence in the English language.

Beyond its military origins, “rank and file” has extended its meaning to encompass various domains. In modern usage, it refers to ordinary members of any group, organization, or political party who do not hold leadership positions. The term has also been employed in labor unions, representing the general membership, not including the leaders.

In conclusion, the idiom “rank and file” boasts a rich and well-documented history predating the origins mentioned. With its roots in military formations and its inclusion in the works of Shakespeare, it has become an enduring part of the English language. As time passes, this expression will continue to serve as a reminder of the essential role ordinary individuals play in various spheres of society.

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